A World of Difference

Barry Hinton is a model of the Palms’ mission. A builder of capacity at the grass roots, engaging Australian communities and personally sharing worlds of meaning in the deepest sense. Barry’s story emphasises how such sharing across cultures has enriched him with great joy, yet made him vulnerable to the depths of pain.

When I accept an invitation into the story of a Palms volunteer such as Barry I am taken beyond my story and our story; beyond what our mass media deem to be news or insist I need. I am powerfully reminded that I share a universal story. Yet I am left to ponder a world of difference in the circumstances of two neighbours.

By Barry Hinton

Noimia was nicknamed Nema by my father on his and Mum’s first visit to Timor. I was teaching Nema English and she simply loved to practise and tell her stories. “Why you call me Nema?” She enthusiastically asked my father. “Because I can remember it easy!” he replied. It’s AMEN backwards”. And that was that!

A dear friend of mine taught Nema that my nickname was ‘Boy’. “Any-time you ever need him just call loudly “Hey Boy” went the explanation. “He’ll do anything you want him to, Nema!” Sad but true. She had me round that little finger of hers. And didn’t she know it!

Nema had a beautiful gift of greeting people. Anyone who has ever met her can always recall where and when it was. This gift wrapped in a huge smile is how I woke each and every morning followed by spectacular sunrises over the sea from our bedroom window.

This particular morning in March was even more special! Nema was today 37 weeks and 5 days pregnant and Bub was kicking like there was no tomorrow! “How many trips to the office last night Nema?” I quizzed. “Boy, I went to the toilet again 6 times!” “Oh Bub!” I replied. “Put a bloody bucket beside the bed. No one will know.” “Yes they will! It’s big noisy!” she remarked. “It make me big shy.” “Whatever!” I mumbled. We have a compost toilet quite a walk from the house. Culturally Nema is not allowed outside at night alone as she is pregnant and Pontiana (a female ghost) could somehow harm our baby. I still think the bucket by the bed was a good call.

After I received my daily gift from Nema I then copped my orders/reminders. “Boil the water and then water the garden while I go and get the bread!” she’d say, brushing her hair. “And water my flowers!” We were both loving learning and teaching Permaculture. “Don’t forget the flowers!” she reminded. “But Nema you can’t eat flowers!” I’d always tease. “Thank you Boy” she’d cheekily reply waddling away with the tummy stuck out for the whole world to see.

Nema loved and was proud of her village. Each morning a 1-kilometre trip to buy bread and coffee could often take 2 hours. You see Nema had other gifts of making people laugh and giving. One day recently she returned smiling and empty handed. I burst out laughing, as I knew she had simply given it all away.

This particular special day we, at 37 weeks 5 days pregnant, had four guests in our small, humble eco-lodge. Three who were English doctors were tickled by Nema’s sense of humour and waddle-like walk. You see, Nema was so proud of her pregnancy she would wear dresses that were too tight to ‘show off’ her tummy. The old women in the village would laugh and comment, “You change that dress Nema or the baby will have your flat nose and not a pointy one like its father”.

This day was like any other day – it was special. Any day in the presence of Nema was. Unbeknown to me while watching a movie with the guests, Nema went for a lie down. I brought some nibblies for everyone when I noticed my little princess had snuck off.

Opening our bedroom door something in my chest broke. Nema 37 weeks and 5 days was fitting on our bed. “Ohh Nema no” was all I can remember whispering. Over the next two hours with our three doctor friends by my side I gently walked her through 4 more fits. We were waiting patiently for the local Cuban Doctor to come from 6 kilometres with drugs to stop the fits. My mobile rang out twice and finally a text came through. It was my Grandfather “Poppy”. I’ll let Nema know soon, I thought. Doc arrived, a drug is administered, the fits stop. We need to get Nema to Dili for a caesarean birth. Oh yeah I forgot to mention. We live on Atauro Island 45 km north of Dili and at this stage we are in the middle of a cyclone. Our hospital has no electricity after midnight, no oxygen left, ambulance is broken and in Dili, and a local truck has taken 5 hours to come the 6km to bring the last supplies from the hospital.

Nema is now sitting supported by her Mum and Dad on a mattress in our living room with 4 Doctors, a nurse and a midwife. Our house is the only house with lights in our village as we use solar power. Three boats from Dili can’t get across to us in the big seas and the medivac boat on the island isn’t released. Due to the cyclone the medivac helicopter is tied down by 4pm and can’t get clearance until dawn.

“Love ya Bub! Slow even breathing. Stay strong. Stay with me!”

Nema’s lungs are now almost full of fluid. Bub miraculously is still kicking. Nema’s Dad can feel him or her. We can’t get a blood pressure measurement as her breathing rattles too loud!

“Love ya Bub!” “Jesus” Nema whispers in prayer.

15 hours later at 7am we get a call to say the helicopter is on its way. Nema’s Mum and Dad are still propping her up so she can breathe easier. I race into our bedroom and pack our bag. Which are those favourite undies again? I forget and unload the whole drawer. Passports? Who knows? I take no chances and pack it all. Back at Nema’s side I ask if she wants to pack her Bible. She looks at me with the most beautiful eyes and lashes I can ever remember as if to say “Don’t play with me. I know that’s the first thing you packed!” And I had too! I know Nema.

Nema fits. Her breathing becomes shallow “Oh Nema No!” the doctors administer another drug rectally. My angel stops breathing. A doctor blows through a mouth-to-mouth mask. The mask doesn’t seal well on Nema’s mouth. I push the doctor to one side. Maximum head tilt. Pistol grip. Pinch the nose. Good seal. ‘The breath of life’. We are doing two-man CPR. A doctor is pumping, I am breathing. “Love ya Bub!”

It’s 7.30am. My two angels have flown. I ask if I should stop. My world stops. I thank the doctors for their amazing strength and skills under such conditions. I call loud for Nema but she is already a memory, as is Bub! The house fills instantly with wailing relatives. Time stands still and all I can think of is my Grandfather’s message on my mobile that came so many hours ago: Happy Birthday Nema God Bless, Poppy XXXX. Yeah that’s it. It was her birthday.

Later that morning I was given a spectacular bunch of Nema’s garden flowers to place on her grave. Now I understand why Nema loved growing flowers!

For Barry to lose his wife and baby is a tragedy beyond imagining. Palms, as it does with all volunteers, will continue to support Barry up to and beyond the due completion of his placement on June 30. This is the work of Palms that sometimes goes unheralded, but your donation will assist us to continue providing the volunteers with the adjustment program they deserve.